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Yesterday I lost my mother-of-the-year award. Oh well, I was probably already out of the running.

I’d been nagging my son all week about a huge English assignment he hadn’t turned in as his quarter grade was currently sitting below 50 percent. And we were about to head out to his IEP meeting, and I was already gearing up for the stress of that. (Individual Education Plans are for students with documented learning challenges. The annual meetings are often stressful as your child is evaluated, you set goals for the next year, and parents often must advocate hard to make sure their kids’ needs are being met.) 

Just knowing he’d have a failing grade on the table had me on edge.

To skip ahead a little, the very first question they asked at the meeting was, “What do you think of his grades?” just after handing us each a copy of the current situation. Seriously, what do you say with a big “F” glaring back at you? My husband and I just looked at each other, as I sarcastically thought, What a great way to begin!

Thankfully, my son piped in, “I could do better.”

But back to my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

We’re about to leave for the IEP meeting. At the last minute, my husband got an urgent call with demands from his boss, so I had to drive while he feverishly dealt with a work situation. Already in a huff, I backed out of the garage just a teensy bit too aggressively and plowed right into my son’s car.

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So now, my tears were ruining my mascara, and we hadn’t even made it out the driveway.

No significant damage. But that car is his baby. If the mood was already at a code red, we were now in full meltdown, sirens blaring. Danger! Danger!

After the fun of the IEP meeting was over, my youngest had an eye doctor appointment. He had been telling me for months his new glasses prescription wasn’t right. But since he’d just gotten his eyes checked a few months ago, along with a brand-new pair of specs, I kept blowing it off. Especially considering I’d have to pay out-of-pocket since the insurance only covers one eye exam and pair of glasses per year.

Plus, the eye doctor warned us it would take a while to get used to his new prescription, which I reiterated to my son, several times. But as his pleas for an eye doctor reached a fever pitch, I finally caved.

And, oh my goodness, I severely screwed up.

Well, I didn’t make the error personally. The previous eye doctor did. He wrote my son’s prescription for a “+” in one eye where it should have been a “-.” No wonder the kid couldn’t see! I should have paid more attention when he said, “Mom, I can see better without my glasses than with them.”

Even though it wasn’t exactly my error, per se, I had played a starring role by preventing my child from SEEING for five months while I grumbled about the out-of-pocket cost.

But now that I’ve had a day to reflect on it, I realized something . . . 

My offspring persevered through some tough stuff and came out better for it.

Sure, my teenager was angry I hit his car. But he also immediately realized how upset it made me. And after seeing how minimal the damage was, he focused entirely on making me feel better. He even sent a text later in the day to remind me that he loves me and to reassure me not to worry about the car.

When the school counselor pointedly asked about his grades, he owned it immediately. He wasn’t snarky. Or defensive. He made zero excuses.

On top of that, when he heard a particularly kind and thoughtful comment one of his teachers submitted for the meeting, he made sure to thank that teacher later in the day.

And—just as the kid promised—he turned in the offending English project, and hours later his grade skyrocketed to an A. And all my nagging did about zilch to help the situation. No, actually, it made it worse.

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And my youngest didn’t get mad about his glasses either. He joked around about finally being able to see. He could take notes in social studies for the first time—hooray!—because he could actually see the board. I’m sure part of him was annoyed and wished I had taken him back to the eye doctor as soon as he complained something wasn’t right. But he didn’t make me feel even worse (and he could have!).

Nope. He took it in stride.

So while yesterday I felt like a failure, as I look back today, I’m starting to realize maybe I did something right after all.

We all have bad parenting moments. We all have terrible, horrible days, period. We’re human. But what comes after the very bad moments . . . that’s perhaps the most important.

Parenting is a long game. And those tiny bits of leadership, the good choices we display every day in front of our children, it turns out those karmic deposits add up to so much more than our occasional mistakes. Even if those mistakes are a doozy.

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Jacqueline Miller

When not worrying about her teenagers, Jacqueline Miller is writing about them. Her recent work appears in, HuffPost and The Christian Science Monitor. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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